Ranking Factors Study Follow-Up: Quality Content Still Matters More Than Keywords

Ranking Factors Study Follow-Up: Quality Content Still Matters More Than Keywords

SEMRush released an amazing study this summer objectively measuring and statistically analyzing over a dozen common ranking factors. Now, they have followed up on the study to scrutinize their results and apply a few different ways to test the weight of ranking factors.

Surprisingly, their results drew almost the exact same conclusions we covered in our previous post on the top SEO ranking factors. Namely: behavior signals for website visitors matters more than any sort of on-page SEO use. Backlink quality also matters a lot, too, so websites must strive to get content shares and guest post spots to climb their way up the SERPs ranks.

Perfect keywords matches remain statistically insignificant across pages one and two of SERPs. In other words, your keyword use will generally not help you improve your rank if you’re already in the top 20, statistically speaking.

However, using HTTPS does still matter, so make the switch if you want to improve both SEO and user trust in your site.

What else did our Atlanta digital marketing team learn from the updated report? Read on to find out!

Website Visits and Preventing Bounces Matters the Most

Direct page visits are still the #1 factor among all top-ranked pages. The amount of time people spend on the site and the number of pages they view also matters.

Bounce rate also counts for a lot. The top 3 positions studied by SEMrush consistently had an average 49 percent bounce rate. That stat means that just under half of people clicked on at least one other page before navigating away from the site or closing their tab. Conversely, websites that have people arrive and then promptly lead send negative signals, potentially hurting their ranking.

However, these factors only count most when looking at extremely high volume keyword searches receiving 1,000 to 10,000 or more searches per day. When looking at lower volumes of 1,000 and below, the results flatten out. In other words, the 20th ranked site doesn’t receive significantly more visits.

To improve visitor volume for you site, try to push traffic from all channels, including social, email and content shares. When visitors arrive, ensure that you have easy-to-navigate content that encourages further clicks and looks. If you have a blog, suggest further related content and link to other pages within relevant content anchors.

A High Number of Referring Domains Separates the Top Positions

While most top-ranking domains in SERPs have consistent user behavior signals, the volume of backlinks and referring domains strongly separates those on the top from those on the bottom of the heap.

Looking at extremely high volume keywords (10,001+), sites that rank #2 have 10,000 more referring domains, on average, compared to sites that rank #20.

On lower-tier searches (1 to 1,000), the difference is less dramatic, but still present. Sites ranking #2 for bottom-tier searches (1 to 100) have around 7,000 referring domains, whereas those that rank #20 have about 2,500 referring domains.

All things considered, these are all high volumes! Websites that want to compete for all manner of search keywords must therefore prioritize earning referral links from sites. Contribute actively to discussions in comment threads, and suggest your content to industry influencers like marketers with a high volume of followers.

Again: having high-quality content helps!

Keyword Use Is Less Important

About 18 percent of domains that rank for high-volume keywords don’t have the keyword anywhere in the body. Only 3 percent of backlinks contain a related keyword in the anchor text. And, as we pointed out in our previous coverage, keyword use in the meta description is largely equivalent across all keyword volumes. The only way for one rank to overtake the other is by subtle use of force.

So what matters more than keyword volume when trying to connect a piece of content to a related search? Relevance to the user. If users find content that answers their questions or satisfies their need — which they show through behavior signals like page visits — then Google is more likely to rank the page #1.

Other Important SEO Ranking Factors

  • Content length shows a strong correlation with ranking position; more content depth usually leads to a better rank
  • One of the most effective rank-boosting factors was the use of HTTPS. 65 percent of domains in the top ranks for high-volume searches used HTTPS
  • Keyword use is consistent across all top ranking domains on average; hold yourself to a bare minimum of standard keyword use to keep pace, but don’t rely too heavily on it to differentiate your rankings

Read the full SEMrush study to view their complete analysis and updated results.

Improve Your SEO Performance by Working with a Top Digital Marketing Company in Atlanta

EverSpark Interactive has years of experience optimizing websites for SEO performance. We provide a complete strategy that takes a multitude of ranking factors into account, especially when it comes to content quality.

If you want to find out what you can do to improve your search traffic performance, take a look at our SEO services, and then contact us today!